January 11, 2012

Creating Photos, Creating Stories

So, I’ve been posting a photo a day for my Project 365. I love it. It helps me see the beauty in the world. It reminds me to really look.

But I’ve also been thinking a lot about how all creative endeavors are the same. The aesthetics of presentation. The way they come about. Really amazing.

First of all, that faculty that recognizes ideas, patterns, interesting bits about the world gets turned on. Like I said above, I spend the day seeing colors and patterns and odd conjunctions as I look for photos. It’s the same way with writing. People ask how you come up with ideas. Well, it’s a skill, like finding a good photo, where you learn to recognize them.

Not only that, but it’s as if it has an on/off switch. When I’m in it, be it taking photos or writing, I see it everywhere. In fact, it’s so insistent, if I can’t take the photo or follow up on the idea for a story, I mourn. I regret it for days. Which is a problem, as when I’m in the mode they come thick and fast.

Another way taking photos is similar to writing is that you frame the image or idea. It’s much easier to think in terms of a photo. You have a square. You aim it at something. You snap it. You take it into Photoshop and refine the frame further. But it’s the same as you write a story. You have to limit the world. I mean: you certainly cannot put a person’s full experience as it happens into a story. That would be ludicrious, not to mention boring. No. You have to select. You have to make everything count. You have to take it into the Photoshop of the mind and clip the parts that don’t matter to the effect or the story.

You have to worry about composition in photos. How the lines lead in the eye. The aesthetics of the placement of trees and people and where their eyes are looking, which leads the eyes of the viewer. Whether there’s color. What ideas are conveyed and how to heighten people’s attention. Once again, the same with stories. You have to “compose” them beyond just the writing. You add elements that enhance effects and you leave out others. You try this. You try that. You try to have a line, an opening, that leads you into the story. You need to have them exit satisfactorily.

And you may or may not be aware of it, but photographers fiddle with the pictures beyond just the framing. They heighten contrast, enhance hue and saturation, blur out background so that the main subject is the focus, and so on. Some photographers enhance photos so much that they are pseudo-realistic, a heightened reality. Look at Trey Ratcliff’s images. The world doesn’t objectively have colors like that that come together in one place, but, yet, we actually experience them that way (more on this in a sec). Same with stories. You need to heighten reality. Compress time frames. Focus and essentialize character. Even in literary fiction, where you’re trying to get closer to lived experience, you must craft the representation for a satisfactory story.

Something I’ve realized, too, is that the photo often cannot represent the experience, and there are some photos that can’t be taken. For example, yesterday morning there was a lovely full moon above the western horizon just before the sun came up on the east. It was full and huge and floated above the blue mountains with snow tipping their peaks. The sky was blue trending to pink. I didn’t take the picture because my camera and my skill would not adequately represent the feeling that image gives. Some people can do it, but often they’ll go into Photoshop and do serious things with the size of the moon and the colors. There are a number of things like that that just don’t translate to image. A vista from a mountain peak often won’t. What it felt like to sit around a fire in the mountains at night. Many things. The same with stories. Dreams seem compelling to the individual, but they mostly don’t fare well in fiction. (And don’t start your story by waking up. Just don’t. That is a huge cliché because it’s been used so much.) The subtleties of lived experience are hard to encapsulate on paper, and maybe I’m not yet able to recognize what doesn’t work or maybe it’s somewhat unconscious, self-selecting as I come across ideas. I guess that’s it ~ it’s in the selection process.

Finally, I look for certain things when I snap photos. Incongruities, patterns, a singular focus. I realize that when I post a photo, I am asking complete strangers to look at my view of the world, and it better be damn interesting. That’s it: interesting, intriguing, weird in some way. Stories, once again, are the same. I’m asking someone to take time out of their busy day and read this thing. It better be interesting. It better have an interesting worldview. It should be well-executed. It needs to entertain or intrigue or something.

Be not boring, which is another word for unoriginal or badly executed.

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